What on Earth will we feed everyone? “a Christmas like no others”.

No room at the inn? Plenty, no-one´s allowed inn anyway! Across Europe, governments are grappling with the same question: how to allow a little much-needed seasonal celebration without further fuelling the pandemic? It will be a Christmas not like any other in living memory. The debate over Christmas, and what it may look like in these extraordinary coronavirusy times, is well under way. Some countries have yet to announce their plans, and in some cases these may change ( You-turners you know who you are ) but several have already said tight restrictions can be eased for a short time over the festive period – providing people are responsible (NOT), and prepared to put up with tight measures before and after (NOT). Tight measures they say. If a tier 2 resident visits the house of a tier 3 resident is it allowed? Yes, as long as the windows are left open apparently. A five-day Christmas amnesty will more than likely turn into a New Year killing fields scenario,I say. The guidelines in the UK for example have been described by one dissenting bishop ( love a dissenting bishop,I )  as “a masterclass in how not to organise and how not to communicate” He goes on, as any right on christian soldier would, to draw attention to the Original Christmas story where "Christmas didn’t begin in Debenhams or Marks and Spencer but in an obscure part of the Roman empire when life was very cheap.”  The current “rule of six” which seems commonplace across most European countries allows no more than 6 people from different households to be able to share a Christmas dinner. The festive meal has to be planned accordingly and what follows is my solution to however many you are, whatever the occasion
may be and will happily see you through the few days of Christmas.
In normal circumstances the list of boxes a dish has to tick at this time of year goes on and on. Not only must it be substantial enough to stand alone, if need be, it must also be able to operate alongside other dishes; it will get extra points if it’s versatile enough to dress up or keep simple depending, again, on what the occasion calls for. And top marks go to any dish that also sparks happy and nostalgic family memories for those slicing and sharing it. And guess what? For me, there is one recipe that ticks just about every single one of those boxes: meatloaf. It’s a dish for life, not just for Christmas. Even if you have bad nightmares of canteen meatloaf, giving this classic another shot can make you realize why this staple was such a hit. This throwback recipe brings everything home and reminds you of all the rich flavours of beef, tomatoes, and that iconic meatloaf texture. Good meatloaf is about as comforting as comfort food gets. Thankfully, meatloaf doesn't have to be complex to be good. It just needs to be tender (from breadcrumbs soaked in milk and gentle handling) and flavoursome (from onion, garlic, and ketchup). For those who prefer to prepare things in advance, it has to be something that can be made well ahead of time. For those who are feeding the masses, it has to be a recipe that can easily be doubled or trebled without compromising the finished dish, and for those who don’t want to start a fresh shopping list for every meal over the busy next few weeks, it has to be a dish that features ingredients you have in the store cupboard – or, even better, leftovers that need using up. Any recipe that makes use of that half a green pepper and two sticks of celery in the salad drawer, and that day-old bread and those eggs you never got round to turning into an omelette, saves time on the shopping and space in the fridge.There’s nothing more comforting than a gorgeous meatloaf made with top-quality meat, lightened up with festive flavours. It’s a delicious, easy way to
feed a big group of people. And when it comes out of the oven in a big tray its a show stopper too. I have adapted this from an original Jamie Oliver recipe.See if you can pick up on my tweaks....
Festive meatloaf
Serves 12 

Cooking time 2 hours
Difficulty Not too tricky
 
4 medium bulbs of fennel
olive oil
2 onions
2 carrots
½ a bunch of fresh sage (15g)
½ a bunch of fresh rosemary (15g)
1 x 125 g ball of mozzarella cheese
200 g fresh breadcrumbs
1 kg  minced pork
1 kg minced beef
2 teaspoons wholegrain mustard
2 large free-range eggs
12 rashers  streaky bacon
500 ml organic chicken stock
2 tablespoons home made pomegranate molasses


Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/gas 4.
Trim each fennel bulb and chop into eight wedges, then place in a large roasting tray, drizzle with oil, season with flor de sal and black pepper and roast for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, peel and dice the onions and carrots, place in a large pan with 1 tablespoon of oil on a medium-low heat and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Pick the herb leaves, finely chop half of them and add to the veg pan, saving the rest for later.
Leave the veg to cool completely, then tear in the mozzarella and add the breadcrumbs, minced meat, mustard, eggs, and a good pinch of sea salt and black pepper. Scrunch and mix well, then shape into a loaf.
Make a space in the middle of the tray and sit the meatloaf in the centre. Criss-cross the smoky bacon over the meatloaf, drizzle with a little oil, then cover the tray with tin foil.
Roast for 30 minutes, then remove from the oven and discard the foil.
Mix the chicken stock, molasses and tomato purée together in a jug until smooth, then pour into the tray. Toss the reserved herbs with a little oil and scatter into the tray, then return to the oven for a final 45 minutes, or until cooked through.
If the juices need thickening at this stage, simply put the tray on the hob to reduce for a few minutes, until they’re the consistency of your liking, skimming away any fat from the surface, if needed.
Serve the meatloaf, sweet fennel and juices with mash and seasonal greens.


And now for the best part.... leftover meatloaf.
Shockingly enough, leftover meatloaf is a thing. I know, I know…  If you’re one of the lucky ones that has leftover meatloaf, but don’t really want the same song and dance of a meal as last night, thankfully, there’s actually a lot of reinvented meatloaf options..... Meatloaf bolognese, Grilled meatloaf with fried egg. Using the leftovers as the base of an entirely new meal, well – that’s what leftovers are all about! It also might inspire you to make a full recipe meatloaf, even if you’re just cooking for one or two, because
if it’s too much food – who cares. 

It's almost guaranteed that you'll have leftover meatloaf after enjoying it for a family dinner. It's a dish that does take time to prepare and, while you're at it, you can purposely make more than needed with the intention of using the leftovers. It's an excellent way to get two or even three,maybe four meals out of one and stretch your food budget. Meatloaf has be one of the world’s best “next day meals,” meaning it’s fantastic both when eaten fresh but when reheated as leftovers I think the flavour improves.There are many different ways one can use leftover meatloaf. Some are simple and obvious, but others require some outside-the-box thinking.Many top chefs have reinvented meatloaf. But, as fun as cheesy, bacon-studded versions are, you can’t replace the classic.How many times have you seen someone post a photo or recipe of a delicious-looking dish online only to see responses like "Excuse me ! A mini burger is not a slider!

"If someone wants to shove some lobster in a tiny roll, serve it to their friends and family and call it a slider, who am I to tell them otherwise? This was the thespian´s very reaction "It´s just a mini burger" he said. For one brief and hopeful moment I thought the pantomime season might be back Oh no It isn´t!! Oh yes it is!! Dear audience  a slider is something very specific. It is not just a mini hamburger. It's a thin, slice of beef, cooked on a griddle or fried with onions and pickles piled atop a patty. The onions do as much cooking as the griddle. The buns are placed atop the onions, absorbing the pungent aroma and flavour, and the sauce of your choosing, in my case tomato, rounds it off. A slider is at once a hamburger and, yet, something more. (Maybe because they are small enough to devour a bunch of them in one sitting.) A mini burger is just a reduction of the same old thing we already know, however much we may love it.

  • 3 slices leftover meatloaf
  • 6  dinner rolls
  • Tomato sauce 
  • caramelised onions

Cut slices of meatloaf in half to create squares. Cook meatloaf in a large skillet over medium heat flipping once. Once the meatloaf is warmed through and seared on the outside, about 3minutes per side, remove from heat.
Cut each dinner roll in half. Spread 1 teaspoon sauce on the cut side of each top and bottom bun. Place 1 to 2 tablespoons of onions on the bottom bun. Add a meatloaf slice on top of the onions and cover with a slice of cheese. Put sliders briefly under the grill for the cheese to melt before replacing the tops. Serve immediately.

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